What’s the Deal with Acts 4:35-38?

Here is my homily from today’s noon Eucharist.  As promised, I deal with Acts 4:35-38.

So what’s the deal with Acts 4:35-38?

Why is it that we hear this text read year after year, but nobody ever talks about it?

Is it prescriptive? Is it descriptive? Is it an ideal? Is it an anomaly? Is it universal? Is it true? Is it legend? How long did it last? Why do we read it? Why is it in Acts? What’s the deal with Acts 4:35-38?

I’ve heard some variation of that line of questions several times since the lessons were first read at the 7:30 service on Sunday morning. It is a difficult piece of Scripture to understand. And we make it even harder to swallow by completely lifted from its context. We miss in the lead up to these verses the story of Peter and John being arrested and having to defend their faith before the Council. We miss the believers praying for boldness of faith and the very foundations of their building being shaken. After these four verses, we miss the story of Joseph the Cyprian, nicknamed, Barnabas, who sold his field and laid the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles. We miss the story of Ananias and Sapphira who lied about selling all their goods and falling dead in the midst of the crowd. To make matters worse, we combine this lesson with a prayer that asks God for the grace to “show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.” We read it in isolation, tack on some guilt and make it sound like Christian Socialism is the preferred economic structure for believers.

Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of Christian Socialism. My first degree is a Bachelor in Science degree in Business Administration. I love my finance and economics classes. I’m a big fan of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. For all its quirks and imbalances, I love capitalism. It works. My ordination vows were to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church: included in which are The 39 Articles. Article 38, found on page 876 of The Book of Common Prayer is entitled, “Of Christian Men’s Goods, which are not common” and reads, “The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touch the right, title, and possession of the same; as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally give alms to the poor, according to his ability.”

So… what’s the deal with Acts 4:35-38? I think the whole thing hinges on one fact, “there was not a needy person among them.” As John Holbert wrote last week, “Communism, socialism, capitalism are not finally the problem; are there needy among you? That is the problem.” For the early Christians, the model that Christ offered in his life, death, and resurrection was a care and concern first and foremost for the other. Even to the point of dying on a cross, Jesus cared for his family, his disciples, and even for his executioners. And so, for this newly formed group of Resurrection People, the sole focus was on the other. Their belief in the resurrected Jesus motivated them to forget about themselves and instead to care for their neighbor. In its extreme form, this meant that they sold everything and put it in a common purse. In its more practical form, it sought to live into the truth that “there was not a needy person among them.” No one in need of money. No one in need of food. No one in need of companionship. No one in need of attention. No one in need of a ride. No one in need of a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. There was not a needy person among them.

Rather than standing here, calling everyone to sell everything and put me in charge of the common purse, I’d like to ask a simple question of us this afternoon. Are there needy people among us? Honestly, are there? Of course, there are! So, are we doing everything we can to live as a people of the resurrection? Are we fully living into our hope to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith? Well, no, probably not.

So what are we to do? First, I’d say trust the Lord our God. Trust that there is enough money, food, love, care, and concern to go around. Trust that the people he has placed around us are strong enough to carry us and vulnerable enough to need carrying. Second, I’d say ask for help. Ask for the grace to see the needs around us. Ask for the humility to admit when we are needy. And finally, I’d say, go and do. Several week’s ago, our kids may JOY boxes on Sunday morning. JOY was an acronym meant to remind them of the proper order in life. Jesus. Others. You. Think of God first. Think of others second. Think of self third. It ain’t easy, friends, but that’s why we have each other. Will you help me? I’ll help you. Amen.

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